We seem to say it each and every weekend in Rugby League circles, but we could well be in for the most important few days of the 2014 Super League season so far this weekend.
The table has very much taken shape over the last few weeks, and we are getting into the second half of the season with real gusto. For the first time in a number of years, there are more issues than ever before to be sorted out, which makes for some fantastic viewing – and hopefully some encouraging viewing figures.
After another excitement-filled Challenge Cup weekend, the attention is now firmly back on league competition – with some big issues being potentially decided this weekend. After the current round of games there will just be 11 fixtures remaining, and points are becoming more and more precious.
With all three major issues – the race for the top spot, top eight and the battle to avoid the drop – all coming into play more and more as the weeks roll on, could we see a defining round of fixtures this weekend? From the outside in, it certainly seems that way.
First and foremost, the top of the table. Tonight’s game at Headingley Carnegie could well see Leeds return to the top of Super League – but without Zak Hardaker in their side, the task becomes notoriously tougher against an in-form Huddersfield side. And if Leeds slip up, St Helens will be patiently waiting in the South of France to make their move and extend their lead at the summit. A three-point gap may not seem much with 11 rounds left, but psychologically it could open a big door for the Saints.
The two Hull clubs are in for particuarly interesting weekends, too. Whilst KR are just a point outside the top eight – with a weakened Warrington the visitors to East Hull on Friday – the gap is slightly wider for Hull FC. A difficult season all round could be turned into a miserable one by Sunday night; as defeat for them against Widnes combined with a Catalan Dragons win would see Lee Radford’s men a whopping five points off the pace. With confidence fragile and form inconsistent, that may be a bigger gap than some believe it to be.
And then there is the battle we haven’t had for a good few years. Fans of certain clubs will be hating it, whilst some may not have give it much attention. But one thing is for certain – the battle to avoid relegation is heating up. With the bottom four all playing each other this weekend, you get the feeling the relegation places could be closer to being locked in than ever before if certain results occur this weekend.
Wakefield consigning London to a 16th straight defeat in the league would see them nine points from safety at best – with 22 to play for, that situation would be looking more and more bleak.
London and Bradford remain the two fierce favourites to be sent into the Kingstone Press Championship, and the odds look stacked against the Bulls following the decision to uphold their six-point deduction for entering administration. However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel for Bulls fans. A win against Salford Red Devils on Sunday will haul them right into the relegation dogfight – indeed, there would be just a five-point margin between the two sides – and Bradford will fancy their chances, too.
Without Greg Eden and Tim Smith, Salford look vulnerable – at least until Kevin Locke makes his arrival.
We will know a lot more about the movers and shakers in Super League come Sunday evening. Whether it is the fight for top spot, the battle to make the play-offs, or those trying to avoid relegation – this could well be the biggest weekend of 2014 yet.